For travelers seeking a slice of Americana, it’s hard to top a road trip on the legendary Route 66. Though many segments of the 2,448-mile road that connected Chicago and Los Angeles have been rerouted or replaced by the Interstate Highway System, devotees can still re-create the drive, with the occasional detour, and find its notable landmarks.
In Oklahoma City, one iconic structure will soon resume its place as a literal bright spot along the former route. In early June, environmental engineering firm TEEMCO purchased the 1958 Gold Dome building, which had faced repeated threats of demolition in recent years. In an Aug. 12 press release, TEEMCO announced its 65 staff members will move from its current headquarters in nearby Edmond, Okla., to the 36,000-square-foot building, which will be renamed the TEEMCO Gold Dome. Prior to move in, the firm will restore and renovate the geodesic structure to accommodate 150 occupants, in anticipation of the firm's growth.
CEO Greg Lorson says that the building—which TEEMCO’s press release states was the fifth commercial geodesic dome built in the world—represents the firm’s objective to protect the environment. Beyond its aesthetics and history, the structure’s form and materials—concrete, wood, stone, and metal—represent the intersection of natural and manmade elements, he says. TEEMCO plans to add interior geological, water, and technological elements that are functional and artistic. “For us, the entire building, including our presence in the building as an environmental engineering firm, will become a statement of how man can positively impact his environment,” Lorson says.
The building actually uses a double dome construction in which the exterior spherical dome is offset from an interior elliptical dome by 10 to 15 feet, Lorson estimates. The exterior dome, the first to feature a gold-anodized aluminum roof, stands atop a 10-foot-tall poured concrete support wall and spans 145 feet in diameter. It comprises 625 diamond-shaped aluminum panels, ranging in size from 7.5 feet to 11.5 feet and weighing between 60 and 70 pounds, according to the former Gold Dome building’s website. Over time, much of the panels’ gilded finish has weathered away, while the aluminum struts have oxidized to white from their original black, and later gold, color.
The interior dome covers a roughly 5,000-square-foot central lobby. Also finished in gold, the dome ceiling is in “excellent condition,” Lorson says. Spaces along the building’s perimeter are topped by either a gypsum wallboard or a drop ceiling.
Structurally, the roof and building are sound, Lorson says. However, the renovation will have to address water infiltration issues in the exterior shell and damage to the ceiling, walls, and floors inside. For the most part, the renovation will preserve and restore original elements to the extent possible, he says. “The interior modifications will be primarily to accommodate our floor plan. But we won’t be making any major changes to the building.”
Furthermore, Lorson says that the company plans to return the exterior dome to its original chrome gold finish—albeit with paint or film since re-anodizing the panels would require the dome’s deconstruction. Along with its celebrated geodesic form, he says, “the color of the dome is special.”
The history of the Gold Dome is as memorable as its finish and form. According to the Okie Mod Squad, a preservation group, the now-defunct Citizens State Bank commissioned local firm Bailey, Bozalis, Dickinson, and Roloff (BBDR) in the 1950s to design a structure as “forward thinking” as the bank itself. Robert Roloff, the lead designer, based his concept on R. Buckminster Fuller’s patented geodesic dome system (which was based in part on German engineer Walther Bauersfeld’s geodesic structures).
The bank occupied the Gold Dome for several decades. Citizens State Bank was eventually bought out by Bank One. In 2001, Bank One considered selling the building to Walgreens, which intended to demolish the structure. The grassroots organization Citizens for the Gold Dome rallied the bank to hold the sale until a private group could purchase the building. The dome then hosted a number of commercial uses, including offices, event space, and a restaurant called the Prohibition Room, and secured a place in the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
In August 2012, lenders foreclosed on the Gold Dome and auctioned it off for $800,000 to David Box, a local developer and business owner, according to an article in the Oklahoma Gazette. Box later learned that renovating the building, including its mechanical system and roof, would cost an estimated $2.5 million.
In March 2013, Box filed for a demolition permit, which had to be approved by the Oklahoma City Urban Design Commission because of the dome’s historic status. Meanwhile, a second grassroots effort, Save OKC’s Historic Gold Dome, formed to help identify alternatives to demolition. Then TEEMCO stepped in.
Unlike past owners, TEEMCO realized that “the building will not function economically as a multitenant space,” Lorson says. However, as the owner and tenant of the building, the corporation could justify purchasing the building and the “premium we’re paying for the opportunity to preserve the historic structure,” he says. “You can’t really put a price on that.”
Lorson declined to disclose the details of TEEMCO’s purchase in part because the sale is ongoing. The dome occupies a 2.5-acre site. Counting the building footprint and adjacent area for staff parking, TEEMCO expects to use about half of the parcel. It is working with Box to rework the remaining property for redevelopment.
TEEMCO is currently interviewing firms to design the building’s renovation, which it plans to oversee. Lorson expects the initial phase of work—to make the building suitable for occupancy—will begin in early September and wrap up by Thanksgiving.
The firm intends to put the Gold Dome’s fame to good use. This spring, it established the TEEMCO Foundation to support the health, education, and welfare of local residents in need. Lorson hopes that the building will become a “celebrity that serves as a drawing card for the foundation,” and attract crowds to future fundraising events, such as the forthcoming groundbreaking. Initial beneficiaries will include tornado victims and a woman in need of a kidney transplant, whose mother is a neighbor of Lorson.
Photo of interior ceiling panels used with permission via a Creative Commons license with Flickr user H.L.I.T.